The lawyer representing the state in local criminal cases is the district attorney (DA). Depending on the state, these attorneys go by other titles such as prosecuting attorney, county attorney, or state's attorney.
District attorneys play a central role in prosecuting criminal cases at the state and local levels. The primary duty of a district attorney's office is to review cases presented by police officers and other local law enforcement agencies. Prosecutors then decide whether to file charges against the accused. They decide this based on whether there's probable cause that the person committed a crime and whether there's enough evidence to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
What Do District Attorneys Do?
DAs are elected to office. While the district attorney has significant authority, DAs have the support of a team of assistant district attorneys (ADAs). These prosecuting attorneys handle specific cases or areas, such as domestic violence, child support, or felony cases. Also, the DA's office includes a support staff who manage paperwork and referrals and ensure the smooth functioning of the office.
A state's attorney general represents the state in civil cases. But, in some states, the Attorney General prosecutes criminal cases.
The range of cases that fall under the DA's purview is vast. From violent crimes such as domestic violence and felonies to misdemeanors like minor thefts or traffic violations, the district attorney's office must uphold state laws and ensure justice.
Beyond trying cases, DAs provide legal advice to police about arrests and investigations. They give general legal advice to county officials and departments. They also make referrals to services for crime victims.
Criminal convictions often get appealed. If appealed, the legal matter moves from the district court to the appellate court or even the state's supreme court. People base appeals on various grounds, such as believing the court violated their constitutional rights during the trial. In some states, DAs defend the state's case before the appellate courts. In other states, criminal appeals go to that state's attorney general's office.
Criminal Trials Overview
The criminal law process is intricate. Once the DA's office files charges, the accused, now a defendant, goes through an arraignment where they are formally charged and enter a plea. DAs will negotiate plea bargains or take cases to a jury trial to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. DAs call witnesses and present evidence and witness statements before the court. If the court convicts the defendant, DAs make sentencing recommendations.
Not all cases go directly to a jury trial. Sometimes, the DA convenes a grand jury to determine if there's enough evidence for a trial. In other instances, the lawyers might negotiate a plea bargain. In a plea deal, the accused agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a reduced sentence or other considerations.